Abandoning the Mine
The tailings from Cananea creep down, causing the town to shift. The outskirts become downtown. Downtown becomes outskirts on the other end that will soon get buried. One day they will have to relocate the town altogether, but for now they deal with it one home at a time. One day you can be an apathetic Mexican homeowner living in peace, the next you'll find yourself living on the edge of a sloping mass of acidic sludge. But I didn't have to worry—I lived in motels.
On days when the wind was blowing east, you could taste the tangy air. With the rain, it reeked like a rusted can of cream corn—a smell that latched to your taste buds. The rain was why I was in my room in the shadow of the copper smelter, watching a zero to zero soccer game.
I went to use the bathroom and noticed a used syringe on the windowsill above the toilet. I had the same room three weeks before and it wasn't there then. I tried to form an image of the previous tenant. The needle was clean, no rust. I realized that I didn't belong in Cananea. I have Mexican blood in me but I was born in the States. Conceptually, it wasn't a part of me. I didn't go to college to be slumming this transient existence for pennies.
I packed my Isuzu Trooper and went to tell my boss I quit. He was in room 5, next to mine. He answered the door in sagging underwear with a can of Dos Equis in hand. It was just a job to him. He'd been going through the motions for years. It was the only life he knew. I said that my mother died, which wasn't far from the truth. He told me to do what I had to do.
It was still raining hard and my windshield wipers were skipping and grinding a groove into the glass. The screeching rhythm punctuated the dribble of American talk radio that penetrated Mexican airspace. I wasn't listening to what they were saying; it was just soothing to hear English. There was a truck in front of me with bright diamond-shaped stickers that identified the cargo as acidic and corrosive, but I knew the truck wasn't carrying anything. The acid trucks left Cananea mine empty, and returned loaded. The truck signaled for me to pass using his blinker, as was the custom in Mexico. I pulled around and was blinded by the gritty spray coming off his tire flaps. I bumped my wipers up a notch and floored it to get past, trusting that the driver knew it was clear. When I could see again, another acid truck was coming in the opposite direction. There was nothing to do but slam on my brakes and stop. The oncoming truck fishtailed to a halt, and we both bounced back into our seats. The truck I'd tried to pass kept going. Everything was suddenly quiet except for the radio and the rain on the roof. The driver of the loaded truck faced me we with a glazed stare. The smell of his brake dust caught up and filled my car.
Once I crossed the border, it really let go. The rain turned to snow through Mule Pass at Bisbee. I was crying, even though I felt detached. It wasn't over a girlfriend or my mother, but over a job. Until now, geology was a theory. An ore body was an idealized model, like pornography. Looking at the landscape around me, I realized I had slept with every feature. I had trampled every quadrant, stealing white burlap packets of soil. I had traversed every mountain in perfectly straight grids-as if that meant something. I undressed it and straddled it over a barstool. I always surveyed virgin territory, but slept in a slag heap. To say I didn't need it was na´ve-copper wired my Isuzu together down to the coiled starter core.
By the time I got to Tombstone, it was a spent metaphor. I didn't even stop for gas. My vehicle was heavy with soil and I was lost in irreversible retreat. I'd risk getting home to Tucson.
Derek White currently works as a technical writer for pressplay in New York City. His visual poems and fiction have recently appeared in Diagram, Lost and Found Times, gestalten, Aught, and CrossConnect. "Abandoning the Mine" was infused by his guilt from working as an exploration geologist along the Arizona-Mexico border. He can be found on the Web at